Monday morning the Marshall County Commissioners heard from two towns that are frustrated with the service they are receiving from the Marshall County Dispatch Center, noting the lack of communication and need for additional training of dispatchers.
Ginny Munroe, Culver Town Manager attended with Culver Police Chief Wayne Bean and EMS Director Jeff Koon. Issues were brought to the attention of the Culver Town Council during a recent public meeting by Culver-Union Township Fire Chief Terry Wakefield.
Munroe said, “About a month ago our chief of the fire department approached the town council in a public meeting and expressed some concerns about what’s going on with 911 dispatch. As a result of bringing that into a public forum, which he normally would not do, I talked with each of our emergency department heads about some of the issues they expressed at that meeting. The town council at that meeting voted to authorize me to communicate with all of you about what’s going on.” She said while they normally would bring the issue out in an official meeting, “What we’ve learned from the past year or so is that the normal protocols don’t appear to be working to take care of some of these issues.”
Munroe said it appears there is a county-wide issue with the 800 system and their emergency services have responded to several misdirected calls that should have been dispatched to the fire department when they should be going to EMS. It was estimated about every third call is either misdirected, dispatched to the wrong address, or something else goes wrong. The Culver Town Manager said they are seeing a lack of protocol when the radio system is down and a lack of communication.
Unable to attend the meeting, Ward Byers, the Bourbon Town Council President had Munroe read a letter detailing several of the same issues. Bourbon’s Police Chief Bill Martin said the radio system was down for about two weeks a few weeks ago placing fire responders and the public in grave danger. He said, “The lack of communication costs time and lives. This issue went unchecked by the Sheriff and his staff until Commissioner Overmyer became aware and took action to correct it.” Byer’s email said, “The radio failure had a significant impact on response times to a toddler that had drowned in North Township as responders were not able to communicate with the Dispatch Center and get the resources they needed.”
Byers listed out several issues from the Bourbon Police Chief including on June 11th when officers were dispatched to Cedar Road for a 92-year-old who fell. When Bourbon officers were unable to locate the address, the chief inquired for clarification, and dispatch advised it was a call on Suter Road in Plymouth instead. On June 19th a Bourbon Officer responded out into the county to assist with an ongoing mental health issue. The officer called on the radio 3 times with no response from dispatch and called by phone two times while en route to being advised the call was on 12th Road and not 12B Road. On July 12 an incorrect location was dispatched and on July 25th a radio communication from the Bourbon office of an open door at a residence with no response from dispatch. Byers said on July 26th the CAD (computer-aided dispatch) show a Bourbon Officer at the scene of a crash on State Road 17 at State Road 8 when in fact the officer was in the town of Bourbon. The final note was on July 14th when Bourbon Police were dispatched for an unwanted guest. Dispatch advised the suspect fled armed with a handgun into a wooded area. The Bourbon officer observed the suspect and a foot chase ensued. It wasn’t until after having the suspect in custody did the county acknowledge the incident even though there was a County Officer in the area and the Bourbon officer has called for assistance.
Byers’ email indicates other police chiefs and fire departments are experiencing a lack of communication from the Sheriff’s Department, noting the lack of training and poor dispatching.
Munroe asked the commissioners for some type of communication process and the status of how the issues are being resolved. While the Emergency Services Advisory Council has been informed of the issues, and the sheriff sits on the council it appears the issues aren’t being actively worked on and solutions for faulty systems.
Munroe said she shared her concerns with the Sheriff, and he responded to her by explaining that he was not aware of all the issues. In closing, she said, “I hope there is a sense of urgency. I hope there are immediate solutions to put in place with a sense of urgency because we can not afford to lose human lives over something like this when it can be taken care of and it’s clearly ongoing.”
Chief Beam said, “Maybe it’s time to separate it from the Sheriff’s Department.”
Marshall County Sheriff Matt Hassel and Marshall County 911 Director Matt Pitney responded to the concerns with a 4-page letter and in person at the Commissioner’s meeting Monday.
Sheriff Hassel said the Advisory Committee oversees the operation. He said some fire representatives voiced their concerns in the April meeting. Hassel said they all use VHF pagers and a lot of times it drops calls so sometimes the firefighters don’t get the pages. He said two services send text messages to a phone and it would be best for all fire departments to use the same service. Hassel said, “But, I’m not over a fire department that’s up to their choice to pick what they want.”
The Sheriff admitted to issues when the 800-radio system went into side trunking. He said they contacted Indiana Public Safety Commission (IPSC) but part of the plan didn’t go through because the State Police repeater was down. Hassell also said employee turnover is an issue. With 14 dispatchers, only 4 have more than 3 years of experience.
IPSC is bringing a technician and a staff member to Marshall County on Thursday, and they will go through the county’s entire system, equipment, technology, and policies for when the system goes into side trunking. Their goal is to create 4 different plans if the 800 system must go into side trunking again.
The sheriff also presented a contract for an efficiency exam with Ritter Strategic Services that will look at personnel, policy, training, and services. The cost is $150 an hour but the agreement didn’t spell out the number of hours needed for the exam. The commissioners approved the agreement with an addendum capping the hours. The Sheriff will pay for the services.
911 Director Matt Pitney told the commissioner that only one of the items in Mr. Byers’ letter was brought to his attention as the county’s 911 Director. He also said every single chief and most assistant chiefs have his cell phone number and can call any time.
In Pitney’s letter to the commissioners and the Town of Culver, it confirms that the county 800 system, Plymouth tower was down multiple times. Starting on Jun 12th there were a couple of days of “site trunking” and again on June 20th for several more days. Pitney said the site trunking is used when there is a problem with the 800 system. Pitney said the procedure created when Jon VanVactor was Sheriff was followed.
Pitney said IPSC told him there was an issue with the police T-1 line and it took several days to fix it so the county’s 800 system was on side trunking.
Pitney said he and John Grolich met with Motorola who did a coverage map site study. Their suggestion was to add 2 towers, one in the Bremen area and one in the Culver area at a cost of $5.5 million. He said, “That does nothing to address the issue we have with VHF.” There are holes in the coverage system with VHF and when Tom Chamberlin was sheriff, they put an amplifier on the system to fix the coverage issues, but there are still holes.
In closing, the county will have an efficiency study by IPSC and an efficiency exam by Ritter Strategic Service to determine how the workings of the Marshall County 911 Dispatch Center are operating and the equipment they use to communicate with emergency responders.